Skip to content

Top tips for hosting Christmas like a pro

These helpful hints and ideas for final flourishes and easy shortcuts will make sure you have a hassle-free Christmas with plenty of sparkle when hosting for friends and family.

  1. De-stress your to-do lists

    Prepping ahead is the best way to save time on the day – and you’ll be doing less juggling on the hob and in the oven.

    Up to 2 days ahead:
    • Blanch sprouts, then refresh, cover and chill. To serve, pan-fry with pancetta or dried cranberries and almonds while the turkey is resting.
    • Cook red cabbage, then cool, transfer to a microwavable bowl, cover and chill. To serve, microwave until piping hot, stirring halfway.
    • Parboil potatoes, then leave to steam-dry and cool. Chill or open-freeze until solid; put in freezer bags and freeze until ready to roast. Carefully add (straight from the freezer) to hot oil and roast until crispy.

    On the day: 
    • Serve cold canapés and desserts so there’s no extra cooking involved.
    • Cook stuffing and pigs-in-blankets for the last 30 mins-1 hr of the turkey cooking time. Cover with foil and keep warm.
    • While the turkey rests, increase the oven temperature and roast the potatoes, parsnips and any other root veg.

    For more top tips for the big day, have a look at our seven steps to turkey success and Christmas dinner dilemmas sorted articles for helpful hints, quick fixes and more inspiration for your festive feast. 

    De-stress your to-do lists
  2. Add bling to sides

    Little additions can help give even the most standard festive sides a new lease of life.

    • Try swirling some crème fraîche or mascarpone through your bread sauce for a luxurious finish, then top with a a grating of fresh nutmeg just before serving.

    • Add some extra aromatic flavour to your pigs-in-blankets by threading them onto woody rosemary sprigs before cooking. These little skewers look impressive and make grabbing a few at a time extra easy. 

  3. Keep Christmas cake decorations simple

    Whether you've bought a Christmas cake or made your own, adding a little decoration can make all the difference. This doesn't have to mean extravagant toppings or over-the-top icings, so try some of these simple design ideas.

    Royal icing snow scene: Mix up a pack of Royal icing according to the instructions then swirl roughly across the top of your cake for a rustic snow scene, as on this gluten-free Christmas cake recipe.

    Fresh wreaths: Create a simple wreath decoration with fresh ingredients, try rosemary and cranberries like on this gingerbread cake, or use cinnamon sticks, leafy herbs and physalis for this rustic woodland wreath.

    Frosted berries: Add gorgeous colour with redcurrants, blackcurrants, cranberries and blackberries piled up on top of your cake. Add a final dusting of icing sugar or brush the fruits with beaten egg white and roll in caster sugar for a fully frosted effect. 

    Reds and greens: Embrace classic festive colours with vibrant pomegranate seeds and chopped pistachios for a jewel-like topping, like on this simple nutty sponge cake

    Coconut snow: A thick layer of desiccated coconut makes the perfect snowy base for wintry scenes, like on this towering limoncello Christmas cake. Simply scatter all over any cake covered in buttercream or Royal icing, pressing it in a little to stick up the sides. 

    Keep Christmas cake decorations simple
  4. Stick to speedy no-cook starters

    Ensure oven and hob space are reserved for the main event with these quick no-cook starter ideas.

    Smoked salmon: If you have time to get ahead, this cheat's gravadalax feels luxurious yet only needs an hour in a spiced citrus and dill marinade. Ready in just 20 mins, this salmon and beetroot carpaccio is beautifully colourful but uses ready-cooked beetroot for a shortcut.

    Veggie pâtés: Another get-ahead technique is to have a pâté or mousse in the fridge ready to serve. This vegan mushroom pâté has plenty of rich flavour and just needs a few bits of toast or ready-made crackers on the side, or for a veggie option, these ricotta and pomegranate mousses can just be turned out when needed. 

    Seasonal salads: For ultimate speed, tossing together a crisp, fresh salad is just right before a big feast. Try starting with this fruity fig and beetroot salad, then ring the changes with different cheeses, adding crunchy nuts or slices of Parma ham or prosciutto. 

    Stick to speedy no-cook starters
  5. Upgrade festive bakes

    Popping to the shops to grab a jar of mincemeat or to stock up on cakes to keep everyone happy is part and parcel of the busy festive season. Add a few homemade spins to give them your own personal twist.

    • Give mincemeat a lift by stirring in some dried cranberries or sour cherries, a spoonful of your favourite spirit (we love amaretto or sherry), some freshly grated citrus zest or some chopped nuts.

    • Add an easy decoration to plain cakes or tarts with icing sugar or cocoa powder patterns. Cut out a cardboard stencil in whatever shape you like and place over the top; dust over and around with sugar or cocoa then carefully lift off the stencil.

    • Serve desserts with a flavoured cream to elevate them to the next level, try this easy citrus whipped cream below.

  6. Reinvent a classic trifle

    Tired of the same old trifle? Change it up with some clever swaps and new flavour ideas. Mix and match your favourites for the ideal combination, or have a look at these for starters: Chocolate orange trifletropical fruit triflesAperol spritz triflelimoncello trifle and Black Forest trifle.

    The base: Swap trifle sponges for swirls of Swiss roll, bite-size chocolate brownies or slices of lemon drizzle cake. 

    The booze: Raid your drinks cupboard and try soaking the base with fruity liqueurs, dark spiced rum or even smoky whisky. For a non-alcoholic version, sprinkle over freshly squeezed orange juice or the sweet syrup from tinned fruits.  

    The fruit: Go seasonal with sliced clementines, oranges and tangerines, make the most of frozen fruits with dark cherries or mixed berries, grab a tin of peaches or apricots, or go tropical with mangoes and passion fruit. 

    The custard and cream: Add a little extra flavour by grating in citrus zest, adding a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg, stirring through lemon curd, or mixing in melted chocolate for a real treat. 

    The topping: Finish with a flourish of shaved chocolate shards, fresh fruits, chopped pistachios or edible sprinkles to give your trifle some real 'wow' factor.

    Reinvent a classic trifle
  7. Build creative canapés

    Canapés don’t need to be tricky or fiddly. When you’re making them, just remember four golden rules:

    • Decide if you want to have a theme, say Italian or Spanish, or mix it up with bites from around the world. Stick to three or four ingredients per canapé – less is more!

    • Choose sturdy bread-based classics like homemade blinis (or buy ready-made), crostini and rye bread that are easy to pick up. For a lighter option, try chicory or Little Gem lettuce leaves and celery sticks, as they’ll hold toppings well.

    • Go for robust toppings that can be easily placed or spread on the base. Pâté, roast beef or cured meats paired with chutneys, mustards or horseradish are great options. Or try prawns and smoked fish with creamy relishes, or classic cheese and chutney for a veggie option.

    • To give your canapé a final flourish, add a sprinkle of toasted nuts or seeds, a pinch of ground spice or black pepper, a tiny sprig of fresh herbs or salad leaves, or a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, honey or dressing.

    Build creative canapés
  8. Go big on cocktail garnishes

    Channel your inner bartender and make simple cocktail jugs and punch bowls stand out with fresh additions of sweet fruits and fragrant herbs, or try freezing them in ice cube trays for flavoured drinks coolers.

    Alternatively, let guests garnish their own drinks: arrange sliced citrus fruits, sprigs of herbs (such as thyme, rosemary and mint), and mini bowls of pomegranate seeds, juniper berries and cranberries on a large platter so guests can add as they wish.

    Go big on cocktail garnishes
  9. Create magic mocktails

    Non-alcoholic drinks can feel just as glam as the sparkliest of cocktails, all you need is a little magic to turn soft drinks into something special.

    • Upgrade water by putting a dash of ginger cordial (or leftover stem ginger syrup) in a glass, top up with sparkling water, and finish with a thin slice of clementine and a sprig of thyme.

    • Liven up lemonade by adding some pomegranate seeds, a squeeze of lemon juice and a few fresh mint leaves to chilled lemonade over ice.

    • Top up tonic by mixing a splash of berry cordial, a rosemary sprig and pared lemon zest to chilled tonic water.

    For more ideas, try one of our best mocktail recipes.

    Create magic mocktails